December 6, 2000
The Rudolph Mysteries


"You have an instant message from Jaymi!" David shouted to me from the other room last night.

It was only 8 p.m., but I was already fully-jammied and tucked snugly into bed ... knocked out by a long day of high heels, low pressure systems and serious Executive Assitude. I figured I would watch a little TV and drift off early, while David did some graphic work out on the computer. Unfortunately, I had just discovered that "That 70's Show" and "Titus" were being pre-empted for yet another stoopid music awards show -- Britny and Justin and Christina: oh boy -- and I was reaching to snap off the TV in disgust when David bellowed.

"What does she say?" I shouted back ... too lazy/too comfortable to climb out of bed.

"She says you're missing 'Rudolph,' " he replied.

Oh my god. RUDOLPH. I had totally forgotten about Rudolph!

For almost forty years, watching "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" has been as important a part of the holiday season as taping Christmas cards to the walls ... tossing fifty-cent tinsel on a forty-dollar Noble Fir ... picking chewed-up candy canes out of those crumbling back molars. It is my third-favorite Christmas special of all time, right after "The Snowman" and the George C. Scott version of "A Christmas Carol."

Plus: it's incredibly bad luck if I miss it. (Usually it means Santa is gonna bring me another fudking Dustbuster.)

I fired off a quick thank-you message to Jaymi for reminding me -- "No problem," she typed back, as we both twinkled offline simultaneously -- and I joyously ran to change the channel.

The show, of course, hasn't changed. The stop-action animation, from a 21st Century perspective, seems comically unsophisticated. I hear Burl Ives' voice and I still automatically think "That guy's got bodies hidden in the crawlspace." And all the storyline inconsistencies and weirdness that bugged my brother and me, as we watched the show back in the 60's and 70's, are still as baffling as ever.

Why is the Abominable Snow Monster HUGE in some scenes, but only as tall as a Christmas tree in other scenes? 

Why is the totally-normal-looking pigtailed doll living on the Island of Misfit Toys? (Is she anatomically incorrect under that little gingham dress or something?) 

Why -- if this blizzard is so big and powerful and terrible that they have to cancel Christmas outright -- doesn't it blow Sam the Snowman and his stoopid umbrella to smithereens?

Why are BUNNIES living at the North Pole?

But even more amazing to me as I watched 'Rudolph' last night -- for what I calculate to be the thirty-fourth or thirty-fifth time, give or take the occasional year missed to childbirth, chat rooms or cheap chablis -- is how much my perception of it has changed. Maybe it's because I'm watching it sober these days. Maybe it's because I'm growing up finally. But for whatever reason, last night I saw things I've never really noticed before about my third-favorite Christmas show of all time.

For instance:

  • Everybody treats each other HORRIBLY during the first half hour.

    "I can't believe how MEAN they are to each other," I said to David in amazement.

    And it's true. For the first thirty minutes of the show, reindeer are unspeakably mean to other reindeer. Parents are mean to their children. Spouses are mean to their spouses. Children are mean to other children. Employers are mean to their employees.

    Co-workers are going after each other with scissors.

    Santa, especially, is a big grumpy jerk. Mrs. Santa and the elves bend over backwards, trying to win his approval ... trying to get him to eat cookies ... trying to get him to just shut up and listen to the fudking ELF SONG, forcryingoutloud ... and he just sits around with his chin in his hand and sulks.

  • Rudolph is a total weiner.

    Hermy the Elf has always been the butt of jokes, but at least he has a strong sense of self and clearly-established career goals. Hermy is proactive. Hermy is going places.

    Rudolph, on the other hand, is a total weiner.

    I don't know why I've never noticed it before. He never stands up to anybody: his parents, Santa, his coach, the bullies on the playground, his girlfriend's father. He runs away in a crisis. He whines constantly. For most of the show he has other people do the hard work ... steering the iceberg, for instance, or extracting the monster's teeth. He allows things to happen TO him, rather than making things happen.

    All along the way, he kisses ass like crazy -- "Yes sir," "No sir," "It would be an honor, sir."

    And at the end of the show, when Santa suddenly decides to bestow this incredible "honor" on him -- piloting a multi-ton flying sleigh into a blinding snowstorm -- Rudolph doesn't say "Hold it. You treat me and my family like dog food for the first forty-five minutes of the show, and now all of a sudden you expect me to do YOU a FAVOR?"  Instead, he meekly straps into the harness ... and away they go.

    Not exactly a statement of personal empowerment, is it?

  • The show hasn't aged particularly well.

    In 1984 I bought my daughter a doll that defecated on command. You pressed her little rubber legs together, and she obligingly squeezed out a dollop of gelatinous toy poop into a paper diaper. So the Elf Supervisor's line about making dolls that "Walk, talk, cry and run a temperature" no longer seems as riotously funny to me -- or as cutting-edge, technologically -- as it did in 1964.

  • They go after the wrong monster.

    Nothing about the Abominable Snow Monster seems all that abominable to me, frankly.

    Sure, he's crabby and he makes a lot of noise. Sure, he smells terrible. Sure, he is having the world's worst Bad Hair Day ... all over his entire body. But this could also describe most fourteen-year-old boys. Do we hunt them down, pull out all of their teeth, remove them from their natural environment and force them into domestic service? (And if we don't ... why don't we?)

    In my opinion, all of that vengeful energy would have been better spent tracking down the REAL monsters in the show.

    Like that rat-bastard, Santa.

Having said all that ... I'm glad I watched the show last night.

It still gives me a warm fuzzy holiday glow, every time I watch it. I still cry when Clarice sings "There's Always Tomorrow" ... and I cry again at the very end, when they stop at the island and pick up the misfit toys. And the fact is that Christmas just wouldn't feel like "Christmas" to me without my yearly dose of Rankin-Bass, Johnny Marks, Burl Ives, stop-motion animation and North Pole bunnies.

Thanks for reminding me, Jaymes. I owe you one.

repaying a little more of that karmic debt

throw a rock